On the All-Star break, The Put up’s basketball crew takes a have a look at essentially the most compelling questions and problems with the second half, the playoffs and the upcoming offseason.

The MVP proper now ought to go to …

Peter Botte: Nikola Jokic — Averaging a triple-double for the Nuggets, the most effective crew within the West, makes Joker the primary three-peat MVP since Larry Chook.

Zach Braziller: Nikola Jokic — He’s averaging a triple-double of 24.7 factors, 11.5 rebounds and 10 assists whereas capturing an absurd 63.2 % from the sector for the most effective crew within the Western Convention.

Brian Lewis: Nikola Jokic — The slick-passing 27-year-old heart has the Nuggets operating away with the Western Convention and appears like the favourite to say a 3rd straight MVP trophy.

Ian O’Connor: Nikola Jokic — When a man has received MVP twice in a row, you virtually search for causes to not give him the three-peat. However Jokic is averaging a triple-double, and his crew is in first place within the West. Simply can’t deny him.

Mike Vaccaro: Nikola Jokic — He may be the unlikeliest three-peat MVP in NBA historical past, however he’s appointment TV.

Nikola Jokic
USA TODAY Sports activities

The crew to be careful for within the second half is the …

Peter Botte: Suns — Phoenix already has risen to the No. 5 spot within the West, and that’s earlier than newly acquired famous person Kevin Durant’s first sport.

Zach Braziller: Clippers — They’re now wholesome and loaded, ripping off a 10-4 stretch heading into the break.

Brian Lewis: Suns — The fourth-seeded Suns must be on the rise now that Devin Booker is wholesome and Kevin Durant is predicted to make his debut after the All-Star break.

Ian O’Connor: Knicks (if solely to keep away from the plain reply, the Suns) — Josh Hart goes to offer them a ton, and I count on the Knicks to hurdle the Nets into the fifth spot within the East, touchdown them in a possible winnable first-round sequence in opposition to Donovan Mitchell’s Cavaliers.

Mike Vaccaro: Bucks — No shock that as quickly because the Bucks received wholesome, they forgot the best way to lose.

The crew that may drop off within the second half is the …

Peter Botte: Nets — Mikal Bridges isn’t going to attain 45 each night time, and the Nets will tumble within the standings, ending within the 7-10 play-in group.

Zach Braziller: Kings — The groups behind them, notably the Clippers and Suns, are higher. They nonetheless have video games in opposition to the Bucks, Celtics, Nuggets, 76ers and Clippers (twice).

Brian Lewis: Nets — They may come out of the break 10 video games over .500, and can possible want that cushion as a result of they lead the sixth-seeded Knicks by two video games and the seventh-seeded Warmth by 2 ½.

Ian O’Connor: Mavericks (if solely to keep away from the plain reply, the Nets) — I nonetheless see Dallas making the playoffs or the play-in, however ball-dominant points between Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving will forestall the Mavs from repeating final yr’s stirring run to the convention finals.

Mike Vaccaro: Nets — They’ll nonetheless make the playoffs, however they’re not in anybody’s dialog to be an element as soon as they get there.

Kevin Durant’s time in Phoenix this season will end in …

Peter Botte: a Finals run — The combo of KD, Devin Booker and Chris Paul provides the Suns a legit probability on the first championship in franchise historical past.

Zach Braziller: a second-round playoff exit — The Suns left themselves skinny on defenders on the wing with the Durant commerce, and received’t have sufficient to get previous the Nuggets after taking down Dallas within the first spherical.

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant will attempt to lead the Suns to an NBA title.
USA TODAY Sports activities

Brian Lewis: a Finals berth — They may haul down the Kings and possibly even the Grizzlies, however extra essential might be what they get performed within the playoffs in Might, and even June.

Ian O’Connor: a visit to the Finals, however no cigar — I’ve received the Celtics profitable it. However I do assume Durant will get his within the desert. Although KD was reminded of simply how exhausting it’s to win a hoop when he received just one playoff sequence with the Nets regardless of a star-studded roster, will probably be virtually not possible for him to not seize a minimum of one with Devin Booker.

Mike Vaccaro: a loss within the convention Finals — There might be some great moments between him and Chris Paul, however in the end a loss to the Nuggets.

Kyrie Irving’s time in Dallas this season will end in …

Peter Botte: complications — Kyrie averaged 28.3 factors in his first 4 video games with the Mavericks, however issues all the time ultimately go sideways with the previous Nets star.

Zach Braziller: a first-round playoff loss to Durant and the Suns — The Mavericks can’t defend almost properly sufficient when it issues. Irving and Luka Doncic will common a mixed 70 factors per sport, however these might be hole factors.

Brian Lewis: a second-round playoff exit — There might be spectacular offensive highlights, however little protection.

Ian O’Connor: an early playoff exit. That might be adopted by a free-agent signing with the Lakers. Irving will lastly reunite with the one famous person within the league who has needed him most, LeBron James.

Mike Vaccaro: a first-round ouster. — All of Dallas realizes that Mark Cuban basically traded in Jalen Brunson for Irving.

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving’s keep in Dallas may very well be a brief one.
USA TODAY Sports activities

A participant who isn’t an All-Star this season, however might be subsequent season is …

Peter Botte: Jalen Brunson — All the snub discuss surrounding the Knicks’ $104 million level guard will get Brunson a spot subsequent yr, so long as his scoring totals proceed to surge.

Zach Braziller: Jalen Brunson — He ought to’ve been an All-Star this yr, filling the decades-long void at level guard for the Knicks. The identical mistake received’t be made once more in a yr.

Brian Lewis: Devin Booker — After Anthony Edwards, De’Aaron Fox and Pascal Siakam have been late provides, Booker was the largest snub and can see that corrected subsequent season if he stays wholesome.

Ian O’Connor: Jalen Brunson — The snub this yr will assist make him an everyday choose. It by no means hurts to be the most effective quarterback within the greatest market.

Mike Vaccaro: Jalen Brunson — After snubbing him this yr, no means he received’t be on the crew subsequent yr if he’s wholesome — possibly at the same time as a starter.

LeBron James
LeBron James and the Lakers are on the surface wanting in on the playoffs.
USA TODAY Sports activities

The Lakers will …

Peter Botte: miss the playoffs — Their deadline strikes offered a greater supporting forged round LeBron and Anthony Davis, however that received’t even guarantee a 7-10 play-in berth for the Lakers.

Zach Braziller: attain the playoffs — They’re simply two video games behind the Tenth-place Thunder, and so they now have an appropriate supporting forged for LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Plus, their remaining schedule is delicate. They may face groups with a .483 profitable share the remainder of the best way.

Brian Lewis: make the playoffs — They could have missed out on Irving (the deserves of their commerce provide is a subject for an extended piece), however they pivoted properly and have given LeBron James sufficient to get in and win a play-in.

Ian O’Connor: make the playoffs, however solely as a play-in crew — They positively received higher, as their victory over the Pelicans confirmed, however they dug themselves too deep of a gap to get into the highest six by season’s finish.

Mike Vaccaro: sneak into the playoffs as an 8- or a 9-seed — They may make everybody assume the Nuggets need to take pause earlier than Denver sweeps them.

The results of the NBA Finals might be …

Peter Botte: Bucks over Suns — Giannis Antetokounmpo and a wholesome Bucks crew will survive Boston and Philadelphia within the East earlier than ending KD’s run within the Finals.

Zach Braziller: Celtics over Clippers — Name it the Doc Rivers Bowl. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in opposition to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George might be an interesting watch of famous person wings.

Brian Lewis: Celtics over Suns — Sure, a Bucks-Suns rematch could be tantalizing, and Phoenix ought to maintain up its finish, however the Celtics have proven they’ll put the clamps on Durant.

Ian O’Connor: Celtics over Suns — Boston in six. A lot for Ime Udoka taking down his crew. The Celtics will profit from their expertise within the Finals final yr, and Jayson Tatum is able to be a part of the storied franchise’s lords of the rings.

Mike Vaccaro: Bucks over Nuggets — It would take seven entertaining video games, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s and Nikola Jokic’s stars won’t ever shine brighter.

The following NBA star to be traded might be …

Peter Botte: Joel Embiid — After the Sixers fall brief once more within the playoffs, James Harden will choose out of the ultimate yr of his deal, and Philadelphia will blow it up and commerce Embiid to reload.

Zach Braziller: Anthony Davis — He has predictably missed 24 video games, and there are whispers he’s sad in Los Angeles. The injury-prone ahead is usually a free agent after subsequent season.

Brian Lewis: Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby — Each have been garnering vital curiosity on the commerce deadline, and the Raptors held onto each, however will that be the case in the summertime?

Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam makes a move for the Raptors
USA TODAY Sports activities

Ian O’Connor: Zach LaVine or DeMar DeRozan — Their partnership isn’t working, and the Bulls may not even make the play-in match.

Mike Vaccaro: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — It makes an excessive amount of sense for the Thunder to not attempt to maximize a return for a man on the point of elite standing.

The NBA’s greatest offseason storyline might be …

Peter Botte: one other swing for the Knicks — {The summertime} story in New York once more might be whether or not the Knicks’ entrance workplace can fulfill its quest so as to add a top-flight star after falling brief final yr in pursuit of Donovan Mitchell.

Zach Braziller: the reunion of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving — That probably would contain a sign-and-trade that will ship Anthony Davis to the Mavericks. It’s no secret Irving needs to be a Laker, and after a fast exit from the postseason, that may grow to be a actuality this summer time.

Brian Lewis: Kyrie Irving’s vacation spot — Presuming James Harden stays put with the 76ers, count on Irving’s free company in Dallas to monopolize the headlines with locations just like the Lakers (and possibly the Suns) looming.

Ian O’Connor: the brand new collective bargaining settlement, or lack thereof — And the negotiations on the load administration subject, which must be solved for the sake of the followers and the long run media rights offers.

Mike Vaccaro: what LeBron James and Kevin Durant select to do — Will they keep the course in L.A. and Phoenix? Or will they muscle their means elsewhere?